20 contemporary Belgian bands you should know

Belgium may be small but we Belgians like to think we’re quite big in music. From pop to hip-hop and from rock to dance, here are twenty Belgian bands that we think are worth listening to.

Before we start, here’s just a small sidenote. As you may or may not know, we speak three official languages in Belgium and because of that, our taste in music can be very different depending on which of the language areas you’re in. Here at TMBB we all live in Flanders (the Dutch speaking side of the country) so in order to get a good mixture of music bands from the two biggest communities, we asked our friends at La Libre (a Belgian newspaper in French) for their share of tips. So Belgians, even you might learn something new!

1. Stromae

A musician, singer, rapper and songwriter from Brussels

This guy is a huge worldwide phenomenon, so you might have heard of him or at least heard one of his songs. The Belgian audience got to know him in 2009 when he scored his first hit, ‘Alors on danse’. The song was picked up in other countries too and Kayne West even made a remix. Since Alors on danse, Stromae has had nothing but success. He made number one in 16 countries with his single Papaoutai from his second album Racine Carrée, was asked to contribute to The Hunger Games soundtrack and he was the first Belgian ever to perform solo at New York’s Madison Square Garden in October 2015. The videoclip of his take on ‘Carmen’ went viral shortly after it was released. Fun fact: Stromae has his own clothing line called ‘Mosaert’. Both Stromae and Mosaert are a wordplay on ‘maestro’.

2. Selah Sue

A singer-songwriter from Leuven

Singer-Songwriter Selah Sue became famous in Belgium when she performed as an opening act for Milow (another Belgian artist worth mentioning in a future list). Her debut album in 2011 was a major success, not just in Belgium, but all over Europe, with ‘Raggamuffin’ being her first hit single. Since then, she’s been featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, her music was used in commercials including Victoria’s Secret and she’s been voted best female solo artist in the Flemish part of Belgium two times in a row, in 2014 en 2015.  Last december, she released a new single, Fear Nothing. Fun fact: Selah Sue sings in one of the ‘Mad Men’ trailers. 

3. Great Mountain Fire

A synth pop band from Brussels

Music that makes goths dance and sailors cry. That’s how the five band members of Great Mountain Fire (formerly known as ‘Nestor’ when the band first started in 2006) describe their music. They’ve even been called the ‘Pokémons of Belgian psychedelic pop music’…  So what kind of music do they make then? The only word the band members can up with themselves as a common denominator for their songs is ‘groove’. Their latest album ‘Sundogs’ sounds happy and cheerful and that’s exactly what they aim for: music that lets you escape from reality. So let the labels go and just enjoy their sound!

4. Netsky

A drum and bass producer and musician from Antwerp

Netsky aka Boris Daenen dropped out of college to become a drum and bass artist. The talented chap managed to have one of the first ever drum and bass tracks played on the Flemish radio stations in 2010. He’s a big name in the dance scene now, in Belgium and even abroad. Beginning of this year he released a new single, ‘Work it out’, currently a big dance hit in Belgium. A new album is coming up too, with the release date set for the summer. Rumour has it Emeli Sandé collaborated for one of the songs. Fun fact: Netksy’s 2015 single ‘Rio’ was used in the London 2016 New Year’s Eve fireworks.

5. Puggy

A pop band from Brussels

Puggy is a multinational band (the singer is English, the drummer is Swedish, the bassist is French), but two of the members met in Antwerp, while they were studying music and eventually Puggy was formed in Brussels. So the band members like to think of themselves as Belgian and well, we let them. The band is quite big in Wallonia and France, in Flanders they still have something to prove and that’s exactly what they plan to do in 2016, they released a new album (Colours) this April. Fun fact: the band opened for several big names including Deep Purple, Smashing Pumpkins and Incubus.

6. Alice on the Roof

A young electro pop singer (and pianist) from Mons

She’s only 20 and yes, her name is Alice. Alice Dutoit started writing songs in 2013, entered the Walloon version of ‘The Voice’ in 2014 (she got through to the semi finals) and got signed to a London based label that same year. Her first single was released in 2015: Easy Come Easy Go. Her unique and fragile voice, combined with the fresh electro pop sounds didn’t go unnoticed in France and the Netherlands either. Fun fact: she’s a huge fan of Stromae (n°1) and Oscar & The Wolf (n°9)

7. Girls in Hawaii

An Indie-rock band from Walloon Brabant

There’s six members in Girls in Hawaï, and none of them are girls… The band consists of six friends, all living near Waterloo. The first EP was launched in 2003 (Found In the Ground), but it was their third album in 2008 (Plan Your Escape) that really did it for them. They started touring in Europe, America and Japan but then, in 2010, drummer Denis (the brother of one of the singers) was killed in a car accident and the group decided to take a break. Girls in Hawaii made their comeback end of 2014 with ‘Hello Strange’, an album with existing songs in rearranged and acoustic live versions. No new material since then, but nonetheless their fanbase remains royal: they won a music award in Wallonia for best album and best band beginning of this year. Fun fact: they chose to call their band Girls in Hawaii simply because it sounds nothing like what they actually are. It’s “an invitation to travel”…

8. Triggerfinger

An Antwerp-based roots-rock band

Triggerfinger has been around since 1998 and have been compared with bands such as Queens of the Stone age and Led Zeppelin. The trio is still growing strong after they released a new album in 2014 and won a Flemish music award for best band that same year. The band released a new single in January 2016 (‘The One’), featuring hip hop legend Method Man from Wu-Tang Clan. Fun fact: the one song that made Triggerfinger extremely popular to the general public in Belgium (and across the border too) is of a completely different musical style than their normal sound. It’s a very intimate and acoustic cover of ‘I follow Rivers’, using cups and knives as a backdrop.

9. Oscar & the Wolf

An alternative pop band from Brussels

Oscar & The Wolf was formed in 2010 and became wildly popular about four years later. In 2014, the band won an award in Belgium for best breakthrough, best album and best alternative sound. The band has released one album so far (Entity) and scored a number of big hits, including ‘Princess’, ‘Strange Entity’ and a cover of Amy Winehouses ‘Back to Black’. Fun fact: beginning of this year it was announced that nine of the Entity albums songs are being used in the Australian soap series ‘Home and Away’ and ‘Neighbours’.

10. Black box revelation

A rockband from Flemish Brabant

Black Box Revelation made their debut in 2006. Since then they’ve over the main stages of every possible Belgian (rock) music festival worth mentioning, and they have been touring abroad for years as well. It’s a love it or hate it kind of band but a lot of people love them for sure. Their concerts tend to get sold out quite quickly and ten years after their first success, they’ll be playing festivals again this summer, including one of Europe’s biggest and most successful ones, Rock Werchter. Fun fact: the music of Black Box was used in several series, including Californication, Sons of Anarchy, Vampire Diaries and True Blood.

11. BRNS

A pop band with a mystical twist from Brussels

‘From the medieval and postmodern corners of Brussels come BRNS, a mesmerizing experiment in dusk, dance, and the fullness of sound.’ That’s how BRNS (pronounced as brains) introduce themselves. The quartet of multi-instrumentalists went from scratch to fame in 2011 and all it needed was one single, Mexico. It took them a while to release a full album (‘Patine’) in 2014, but it was equally well received and the praise kept coming the year after that. Their latest single was released in november last year, which means there might be a next album in the making. Definitely worth keeping an eye on!

12. Tout Va Bien

A male singer-songwriter from Mechelen

Listening to Tout va bien (‘everything is okay’ in French) is like hearing the best of Radiohead and Patrick Watson at the same time. Despite the French name, the band’s singer (Jan Wouter Van Gestel) is actually Flemish and his big break was in 2013 when he performed ‘If You Go Away’, an English cover version of ‘Ne me quitte pas’. Fun fact: Jan Wouters dad was one of the background singers in one of his recent performances.

13. La Smala

Hip hop collective from Brussels

La Smala was founded in 2007 and formed by members of various rap collectives in and around Brussels. It wasn’t until their debut album in 2014 that they were starting to get really popular with their brutally honest but clever lyrics. They’ve played at all major summer festivals and venues in Belgium since, so it’s safe to say they’re now a household name in the Belgian hip hop scene. Fun fact: La Smala is Arab for family.

14. Suarez

A rock/pop band from Mons

Another band that is wildly popular in the south of Belgium (and in France) but remains relatively unknown in the north. But hey, if our Walloon colleagues insist Suarez should be on the list, we take their word for it. Suarez’ style of music is a bit of everything: rock, pop, acoustic music, French, English, Latin and even Malagache (Madagascar) music. Fun fact: three of the four band members are actually from Madagascar, hence the name Suarez: it’s the last name of the Portugese explorer that discovered Antsiranana Bay (also known as Diego-Suarez Bay in Madagascar.

15. The Van Jets

Alternative rock band from Ostend

It all started in 2004 for The Van Jets, when the band won a talent contest in Belgium. They’ve released four albums since and have been frequent returning guests during summer festivals (they have a great live reputation) and in the charts. So yes, The Van Jets are here to stay! Fun fact: their latest single ‘Two Tides of Ice’, released in 2015, is a nod to Bill Bryon’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.

16. Balthazar

An indie-rock band from West & East Flanders

Balthazar started gaining recognition through local talent competitions in Belgium. Their debut album ‘Applause’ was produced by two of the (then 22-year-old!) band members in 2010 and today, the indie-rock band is hotter than ever thanks to their fun and edgy sound, not just in Belgium but in France, The Netherlands and Germany too. The band won a Flemish award for best alternative and best band in 2015 and were nominated for best album (Thin Walls) as well. Fun fact: Their album Thin Walls was produced by Ben Hillier, who previously worked with Blur, Depeche Mode and Elbow.

17. Nicola Testa

Dance/pop band from Brussels

You won’t find too much information on Nicola Testa (Google keeps asking me if perhaps I meant to type Nikola Tesla…), but nonetheless this band deserves to be on the list. Nicola Testa is the name of the band as well as the lead singer of this fairly new name in the Belgian music scene. Their first album, No More Rainbows, was released in 2015 and Nicola wrote and composed all eleven songs by himself. His single Rainbow turned out to be an instant hit. Fun fact: his first album was realized thanks to the support of his fans via a crowdfunding project. Go Nicola!

18. Ozark Henry

Singer songwriter and musician from Kortrijk (West Flanders)

Ozark Henry (aka Piet Goddaer) has the Belgian public divided in two camps: the lovers and the haters. But no matter you think of him and his very distinctive voice, he’s one of those rare artists that successfully keeps reinventing himself time after time. Last year, Ozark Henry released ‘Paramount’, recorded with 90 musicians of the National Orchestra of Belgium. It’s the first Belgian album recorded in ‘immersive sound’, which basically means that if you were listening to the record live, you would have to stand in the middle of the orchestra to get the same sound. The technique is so new that Piet was even invited by Google in New York to talk about his vision on the future of music experience. Not bad, eh?

19. Lost Frequencies

DJ and producer from Brussels

The young DJ and music producer Felix De Laet (22), known as Lost Frequencies, was the world’s most played Belgian artist in 2015. His remix of  ‘Are you with me’ by country artist Easton Corbin became a global smash hit end of 2014. The success continued with a second and original song, ‘Reality’, co-written with Janieck Devy and Radboud Miedema. It became the #1 track for airplay in Europe for several weeks in 2015. He’s been touring the world ever since, playing on major festivals (including Tomorrowland) and performing covers live (for ex. One Republics’ counting stars). You’ll find several more of his remixes on his website.

20. Hooverphonic

Not your average pop band from Sint-Niklaas (Antwerp)

We started with a worldwide phenomenon and now we’re ending the list with a worldwide phenomenon: Hooverphonic. There’s a big chance you’re familiar with their greatest hit, Mad About You, released in 2000. The band changed female lead singers twice over the years and since March 2015, Hooverphonic founder Alex Callier started working on an album without a permanent singer. The first single ‘Badaboom’, a duet featuring French singer Emilie Satt and English singer Litlo Tinz, released end of 2015, proved to be a success. Badaboum is featured on Hooverphonic’s new album ‘Wonderland’ released in March 2016. Prick up your ears because there are more funky bass grooves and ambient keys where that came from!

 

Obviously there are a lot more names to add, we’re working on more themed lists for the future. To be continued…

Written By

Freelance journalist & copywriter, vegetarian, photography lover, passionate reader, globe-trotter, aspiring everything.